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The Narrative Voice in a Web Series.

by on Mar.15, 2010, under Creators Blog, Writing

Craig Frank on set for Compulsions

Craig Frank on set.

It’s been a long couple weeks with the Streamy Nominations and such, I wanted this blog to come right after my previous two writing blogs on Themes and Drama, but this month continues to be a whirlwind. None the less, let’s get right into it.

Being a creator and a fan of Web Series I’ve found that many shows contain some form of narration. These types include, but are not limited to  -

  • General Narrator - A person not part of the story/world telling the audience what is going on.
  • Vlogging - A character speaking directly to the camera telling the audience what he/she is observing in the world.
  • Voice Over(Internal Monologue) - A character speaking through her thoughts as he/she goes through the story.

Philosopher Jacques Lacan once said,
“The narration, in fact, doubles the drama with a commentary without which no mise en scene would be possible”

As narration can elevate the drama, I feel that it also can be a very slippery slope. By definition it goes against one of the old adages of filmmaking “Show me, don’t tell me”. This warning should be especially observed in a web series simply because your run times are so short. One minute of narration feels a lot longer in a five minute episode than it does for an hour long. Thus for our show, I tried to limit the narration to come only when absolutely necessary and even attempted to give it a fresh unique spin to the characters.

In Compulsions, the narration comes in the form of Internal Monologue Voices Overs. Each of the three leads, Mark, Justine, Cassandra, all use Voice Overs to narrate the story and reveal more about their characters. It was important to me that when any of the characters would give a voice over, there would be a level of differentiation that was more than just “this person speaking his mind”. Our narration is instead grounded within the individual character and would come from a place where they’d reveal layers to themselves you would not see otherwise.  You’ll also notice that in each lead characters first feature episode, the final voice over is a defining character point for each and stated in their own unique voices.

Mark Sandler’s (Craig Frank‘s) voice overs come from a place of being instructional and ‘to the point’. His characer is very much in control of the situation. Thus in “educating” the audience with his VO’s it serves as a demonstration of his inner emotional control and confidence. At the end of Episode 1: Unleash, he proudly declares in VO – “My name is Mark, and I am a Sadist.”

Justine Davis’ (Janna Bossier‘s) voice overs come from a caring story teller origin, like a parent telling a child a fairy tale. I backstoried her psychosis as coming from a glossy yet troubled and twisted childhood, which would be shown onscreen as a strong yet extremely vulnerable and disturbed young woman. At the end of Episode 3: Fairy Tale, she ends her tale in VO - “That Halloween my Mother bought me a princess costume but I was disapointed… I wanted to be the Fire Breathing Dragon.”

Cassandra Morrissey’s (Annemarie Pazmino‘s) voice overs come from a literary narrative POV. The insipiration was if she’s watching a play and is acting as the commentator/narrator. If you haven’t noticed, Cassandra’s VOs are all written in Iambic Pentameter, which is by design. I thought the Iambics would add a level of creepiness to the character, which would in turn add to her own psychosis. At the End of Episode 5: Only I Can See, she narrates “People keep Secrets, every he and she. For they keep secrets, only I can see”.

Three characters all giving voice over narration in very different ways, thus justifying its existence in the first place and hopefully elevating the drama in each scene with its commentary. I encourage all writers to find new ways to bring narration to screen, if anything, it will hopefully give your work a fresh distinctive element.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post on using narration to elevate the character. I encourage you to check out my previous posts on Theme and Writing for the Short Form.

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10 comments for this entry:

10 Responses to “The Narrative Voice in a Web Series.”

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  • Compulsions wins 5 StayTunedTV Awards
  • Promoting a Web Series
  • Script Magazine’s Interview with Bernie Su
  • WebTV Week and The Streamys – Celebrating the Space and the Medium.
  • Compulsions wins a Streamy for Best Writing in a Drama – Bernie Su
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